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Oh Happy Day!

Posted on March 28, 2024 in: Reflections

Oh Happy Day!

Some years ago, a Gospel song made the top 10 charts, it was called “Oh Happy Day.” The refrain of the song is, “Oh happy day, oh happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.” The “happy day” is Good Friday, because that is the day when Jesus brings salvation to humanity by His Passion and death on the cross. But for Christians, there is an even happier day, the day when He is risen: Easter Sunday.

As Catholic Christians, we are, of course, a people of the Eucharist, and a people of the living Word of God. But primarily, we are an Easter people; a people of the empty tomb. Because if there was no Resurrection, no Easter Sunday, we Christians are wasting our time following a red herring, since there can be no Christianity without the Resurrection.

Many people act as if Christmas is the most significant Christian solemnity. Of course, if Jesus had never been born, there could be no Resurrection. But, if there was no Resurrection, Jesus would have been just another itinerant preacher; there were hundreds of them, then and now. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, He would have been just another remarkable holy man.

But for Christians, the Resurrection is the focal point of our faith; the empty tomb is the reason for our existence, therefore, Easter is the premier solemnity of the Church. In fact, the Resurrection is the centerpiece of all four Gospels; every chapter in the Gospels builds up to one event: the Resurrection of Jesus. That is why the Gospel writers do not concern themselves with details of Jesus’ early life, or about His parents, His education or what He did before age 30. The focus of the Gospel writers are the events of the last three years of Jesus’ life that lead up to the empty tomb.

Since our faith is based on the empty tomb, those who disbelieve in Christ try to disprove His Resurrection, because if you disprove that Jesus rose from the dead, Chrisitanity folds like a deck of cards. From the first Easter, up until today, there have been those who have tried to disprove the Resurrection.

Over the centuries, there have been countless theories posed to debunk the Resurrection. One popular theory goes something like this: Jesus and His disciples planned to stage His death by giving Him a potion that would cause Him to appear dead. Then after three days, Jesus would be given an antidote, thus appearing to be resurrected from the dead. However, the plan went awry when the centurion pierced the side of Jesus with a lance, so the disciples had to figure out a way to steal His body in order to make it appear that Jesus had actually risen from the dead.

Obviously these conspiracy theorists never researched the realities of Roman executions. The Romans were professional killers. The men who crucified Jesus were part of a killer squad specially trained to torture and kill. The Roman scourging alone was enough to kill a man. In fact, the Romans referred to it as the “almost death.”

And then there was the horror of the crucifixion itself. The Romans had raised this horrific form of capital punishment to a science. They made sure that no one survived it, potion or not.

As for the disciples stealing the dead body of Jesus, it would have been impossible. The exact number of Roman soldiers ordered to guard the tomb of Jesus is unknown, however, the Gospel of Matthew states that, at the request of the chief priests and the Pharisees, soldiers were placed on guard at the tomb of Jesus to prevent anyone from stealing His body. According to Roman law, if a prisoner escaped, the soldiers assigned to guard him would have to serve that prisoner's sentence or endure his punishment. In this case, if Jesus’ body was allowed to be taken, the guards faced death. It seems to me that the guards would have had a pretty high motivation not to let anyone take the body of Jesus.

But there is even more compelling evidence that Jesus actually rose from the dead, namely the actions of the apostles after the Resurrection. There is only one way to explain how a group of frightened men who abandoned Jesus and went into hiding would later emerge fearlessly proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. There is only one way to explain how these men who had acted so cowardly at the crucifixion of their leader would, except for John, each endure torture and an horrendous death. The one and only explanation is that they had seen the risen Jesus.

They had seen Him appear out of nowhere, they had dined with Him and they had seen Thomas put his hand in His wounded side. What caused this dramatic change in the apostles was what theologian George Weigel calls the “Easter effect.” The apostles came to realize that the Resurrection was not only about what had happened to Jesus, but what had happened to change them.

What then does the Resurrection mean for believers today? The other day, I read an article by Joe Kovacs, a writer for the Macon Telegraph, entitled “Outbreak!” In it, he writes that 100 percent of earth’s population is now infected with something far worse than coronavirus. We are all suffering from the same serious condition: mortality. We will all die someday. No matter what nutritious foods we eat, no matter how many vitamins we take, no matter what kind of medicines we use or exercises we perform,we cannot change the inevitable fact that we will all meet our end. That is the bad news.

But there is good news. In fact, it is the best news we could ever hear. That news is that we are not meant to be just mortal. We have been created to live eternally, without any sickness or disease. Despite the fact that we will all someday leave this earthly life, the Good News is that we can overcome our own mortality, if we follow Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, to our eternal life.

Every physical healing by Jesus that we read about in the New Testament is simply an example of our ultimate healing, when our mortal, physical bodies of flesh and blood will be changed instantaneously into immortal bodies that will no longer be withering away. As St. Paul writes in Corinthians 15:54-55, “And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality,then the word that is written shall come about. Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death is your sting?”

We are all in this together, we all live mortal lives. But Jesus has given us the way to eternal life. He tells us in the Gospel of Mark 1:15, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” That is what we are being called to this Lent: belief and repentance. If we believe the word of God, follow God’s commandments and repent and turn away from sin and back to Him, then truly this Easter we can say, “Oh Happy Day!”

 

By Deacon Ben LoCasto


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